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Thursday, September 6, 2012

What to Watch for in Obama\'s Speech


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - President Obama takes the stage tonight competing against a formidable array of convention speakers: Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton - and Barack Obama.

Not easy. Still, one thing Mr. Obama has proved over the years is that he can deliver the big speech, particularly when he might be backed into a corner. And Mr. Obama has big advantage here: He is going last.

Here are a few things to watch out for when Mr. Obama takes the stage.

- One of Mr. Romney's most effective arguments last week was directed at Obama voters of 2008. The president, Mr. Romney said, was a perfectly nice man who was over his head in the White House, and it was O.K., he said, to vote against hi m as expression of disappointment. Nothing personal. Mr. Obama is going to have to find a way to turn that back. He might argue to disappointed supporters that they should stick with him through this election, appealing to their reservoir of personal affection. But he could also try to simply demonize Mr. Romney.

- Speaking of which, how much will the name “Mitt Romney” be heard tonight? Mr. Obama has attacked Mr. Romney, harshly and often, on the campaign trail over the last few weeks, particularly on his business background and his refusal to release more years of tax returns. Many Democrats have warned that Mr. Obama risked dragging himself down with those kinds of partisan attacks, and some suspect that they have pushed down his unfavorable ratings in some polls. And a national television audience is a different venue than a campaign rally, so there is a pretty strong argument not to reprise them here, particularly because so many previous speakers have already taken on Mr. Romney.

Still, Mr. Obama has a rare opportunity to draw the contrast between himself and Mr. Romney on issues and what they will do as president, and turn this fall campaign into the kind of election he has always said he wanted: a starkly different choice between two visions of government's role in America's future. Last night, Mr. Clinton offered Mr. Obama a road map on how to present that choice, and Mr. Obama is not too proud to take such advice from the last Democratic president.

- The so-called peanut gallery - strategists, columnists, contributors and the like - have not shied from offering their suggestions on what Mr. Obama should put in the speech. One of the most striking suggestions was to use this speech to lay out a detailed and politically ambitious plan to deal with the deficit. That seems unlikely, but you never know.

- Mr. Obama's campaign has, not surprisingly, tried to keep a lid on details of the speech. But he put out a Web-only video on Thursday that offered a bit of a preview of what he will say, called “Promises Kept.” “From cutting taxes for middle-class families to bringing about comprehensive health care reform to reinvesting in education and infrastructure, President Obama has kept his promise to rebuild America for millions of families,” the video said.

- This convention has been notable for the repeated focus, every night, on social issues: There has been talk about abortion rights, contraception, same-sex marriage and the lifting of the ban on gays serving openly in the military. The issues play well inside the convention; but perhaps not as well across the country. Will Mr. Obama feel a need to spend much time talking about these issues, or has that box already been checked?

- Latino voters have been one of the main targets of this convention - witness the lineup of speakers - but Mr. Obama has had at times rocky relations with the se voters because of what many saw as his delay in pushing an overhaul of the immigration law and the administration's aggressive crackdown on illegal immigrants. He helped himself by issuing an executive order delaying deportation proceedings against many young immigrants who are in this country illegally. Still, immigration seems like one topic that is going to be hard for Mr. Obama to avoid.

- Mr. Obama's aides said this would be a forward-looking speech, and Mr. Clinton certainly helped a lot by making the case against Republicans and their conduct over the last four years. But watch to see the extent to which Mr. Obama blames Republicans for struggles during his first term. Might Mr. Obama acknowledge some errors over his first four years?

- Tonight's speech was originally supposed to be in a stadium - a reprise of Mr. Obama's triumphant convention speech in Denver four years ago - but fear of bad weather prompted convention organizers to move it back insid e. That means a smaller crowd and, at least, potentially less energy. It also means that unlike last time, this will look like just another convention speech in an arena. Whether anyone outside the arena will notice is another question.

One big loss (unless convention planners pulled off a miracle Wednesday night): Not enough time to string up the balloon drop that photographers so love.